Third body recovered from deadly hot air balloon accident

Print
Email
|

by Natalie DiBlasio, USA Today/Associated Press and 13News Now

WVEC.com

Posted on May 9, 2014 at 11:22 PM

Updated Monday, May 12 at 8:34 AM

Update 5/11 3:30 p.m. Virginia State Police and other agencies resumed search efforts around 6:30 a.m. in Caroline County.

The remains of the third crash victim were located around 11:00 a.m. about 100 yards north of where another victim was found yesterday.

State Police and the National Transportation Board have started trying to locate the balloon wreckage and any additional evidence.

Anyone that may have video or photos of the incident is asked to share them with investigators at eyewitnessreport@ntsb.gov .

***********

CAROLINE COUNTY, Virginia -- A family spokeswoman told the Associated Press a passenger still missing after a fiery balloon crash Friday night was Natalie Lewis, Director of Basketball Operations for the University of Richmond's Women's Basketball Program.

Julie Snyder added Lewis was a former player at Richmond.

Crews continued searching for Lewis, having found the remains of the pilot and a second passenger by Saturday.

The Washington Post reported that Associate Head Coach Ginny Doyle's sister confirmed during a telephone interview that 44-year-old Doyle was the other passenger on the balloon.

Hot air balloon pilot and owner of Virginia Balloons Mark Nelson told 13News Now the pilot who died in the mishap was Dan Kirk.

Nelson knew Kirk for 35 years and said his hot air balloon was named "Starship."

He said Kirk was a very accomplished hot air balloon pilot who enjoyed flying in competitive events. Friends thought of him as an ambassador to the sport of hot air ballooning.

"Hot air ballooning is a very small sport in Virginia with a very small,l close group of friends and balloon pilots," wrote Nelson. "'Captain Kirk' will be greatly missed by everyone in ballooning and at the future Flying Circus Balloon events...Our hearts go out to Dan's family and the families of passengers involved in the balloon accident."

Virginia State Police said Saturday the search for Lewis moved from a rescue operation to a recovery operation.

VSP spokeswoman Corinne Geller said the rremains of those found were sent to the Chief Medical Examiner in Richmond.

"We have still not located the basket or the balloon, but we do continue to locate debris," Geller said, noting the fire may have burned up the parachute and basket. "It can be like looking for a needle in a haystack."

Geller said police were hopeful they would find the third occupant by Saturday evening.

"We have three deceased people and our focus is on finding the third person," she said.

The incident happened shortly before 8 p.m. Friday evening in Caroline County, after three hot-air balloons took off from Meadow Event Park. Two of the balloons landed safely, but as the third balloon attempted to land, witnesses said it struck a power line and burst into flames.

Twenty balloonists from the Mid-Atlantic region were to participate in the weekend festival, said Greg Hicks, a spokesman for the venue, which also is the site of the State Fair of Virginia.

"It's just a shocking situation for everyone," Hicks said.

Based on witness accounts, the pilot attempted to regain control of the balloon and manage the fire. At one point, the balloon's two passengers leapt from the basket. Witnesses recall hearing an explosion, and the fire continued to spread. The basket and the balloon then separated.

"As soon as we looked up, the thing blew up right there," witness Debra Ferguson told The Free Lance-Star of Fredericksburg, Va. "All I heard was, 'Oh my God, Oh my God,' and all you saw was the top of the balloon still flying, but all of the basket was gone. All of the flames just disappeared. ... It was like a match — poof — and then it was gone."

Carrie Hager-Bradley said she saw the balloon in flames on her way home from the grocery store and heard people yelling, according to WWBT TV.

"They were just screaming for anybody to help them," the station quoted her as saying. "'Help me, help me, sweet Jesus, help. I'm going to die. Oh my God, I'm going to die,'" Hager-Bradley said she heard one person screaming.

Print
Email
|